Jose Fernandez is just scratching the surface

USA TODAY Sports

Jose Fernandez is good. But can he be great or even elite?

Only twenty-one years old and a season under his belt; Jose Fernandez has begun to make a name for himself. During his 2013 campaign, he dominated his way to an All Star appearance, National League Rookie of the Year, and came in 3rd for Cy Young honors to top it all off. He isn't just hype either, from a numbers angle, Fernandez is explosive with his compiled 4.2 fWAR and 6.3 bWAR. All that in only 172.2 innings. To say the least, Fernandez had himself a stellar rookie season. But was 2013 his ceiling or his floor?

Let's first take a look at his pitch f/x data. I eliminated slider and cutter data because pitch f/x only recorded 6 and they were likely miscalculated curveballs.

Name vFA (pfx) FA% (pfx) wFA/C (pfx) vFT (pfx) FT% (pfx) wFT/C (pfx) vCU (pfx) CU% (pfx) wCU/C (pfx) vCH (pfx) CH% (pfx) wCH/C (pfx)
Jose Fernandez 94.8 53.20% 0.9 93.6 6.20% 1.69 81.7 33.60% 2.68 85.8 6.10% 1.33

As you can see, Fernandez has four above average pitches; the curveball being his best. In fact, his curveball is so good, it rates at 2.68 in wCU/C (pfx). To put that into context, his curveball ranks secondamong qualified starters, which is only a tick behind Clayton Kershaw's curveball at 2.73. Thus from a repertoire standpoint, we can conclude Fernandez certainly has the stuff to continue being a compelling pitcher.

However, stuff alone doesn't make a pitcher great, and Fernandez has shown he's more than pure stuff. Despite his young age, Fernandez is already years ahead of his competitors in commanding the zone. In zone percentage, Fernandez ranked sixth last year at 48.3%. He also ranked twenty-first in BB/9 at 3.02 and thirtieth in K/BB at 3.22. Finally, he was able to limit the long ball to the tune of a 7.1% HR/FB ratio and 0.52 HR/9, good for ninth and twenty-first respectively among qualified pitchers. Taking all this into account, it adds up for a fantastic recipe for success going forward.

Yet, this assumes Fernandez remains static. But, due to his youth, time is on his side, and it's not inconceivable to suggest he can further improve himself. How much remains the question. What does history suggest about players with similar skills as Fernandez?

Using Fangraphs leaderboards & filters, I searched individual seasons, went back as far as 1920 to filter for qualified starters whom had a K% greater than or equal to 27% and BB% less than or equal to 9%.

Season Name Team K/9 BB/9 K/BB HR/9 K% BB% FIP
2002 Curt Schilling Diamondbacks 10.97 1.15 9.55 0.98 31.20% 3.30% 2.35
2000 Pedro Martinez Red Sox 11.78 1.33 8.88 0.71 34.80% 3.90% 2.17
1999 Pedro Martinez Red Sox 13.22 1.56 8.5 0.35 37.50% 4.40% 1.33
2004 Ben Sheets Brewers 10.03 1.22 8.25 0.95 28.20% 3.40% 2.65
2001 Curt Schilling Diamondbacks 10.27 1.37 7.51 1.3 28.70% 3.80% 3.11
2004 Randy Johnson Diamondbacks 10.62 1.61 6.59 0.66 30.10% 4.60% 2.3
2013 Matt Harvey Mets 9.64 1.56 6.16 0.35 27.70% 4.50% 2
2003 Curt Schilling Diamondbacks 10.39 1.71 6.06 0.91 28.80% 4.80% 2.66
2002 Pedro Martinez Red Sox 10.79 1.81 5.98 0.59 30.40% 5.10% 2.24
1997 Curt Schilling Phillies 11.29 2.05 5.5 0.88 31.60% 5.80% 2.62
2009 Javier Vazquez Braves 9.77 1.81 5.41 0.82 27.20% 5.00% 2.77
1965 Sandy Koufax Dodgers 10.24 1.9 5.38 0.7 29.50% 5.50% 1.93
1999 Randy Johnson Diamondbacks 12.06 2.32 5.2 0.99 33.70% 6.50% 2.76
2001 Randy Johnson Diamondbacks 13.2 2.6 5.09 0.7 36.70% 7.20% 2.22
1996 John Smoltz Braves 9.79 1.95 5.02 0.67 27.70% 5.50% 2.64
1998 Curt Schilling Phillies 10.05 2.04 4.92 0.77 27.60% 5.60% 2.77
2004 Johan Santana Twins 10.46 2.13 4.91 0.95 30.10% 6.10% 2.92
2003 Mark Prior Cubs 10.43 2.13 4.9 0.64 28.40% 5.80% 2.47
2002 Randy Johnson Diamondbacks 11.56 2.46 4.7 0.9 32.30% 6.90% 2.66
1988 Roger Clemens Red Sox 9.92 2.11 4.69 0.58 27.40% 5.80% 2.17
2011 Clayton Kershaw Dodgers 9.57 2.08 4.59 0.58 27.20% 5.90% 2.47
2000 Randy Johnson Diamondbacks 12.56 2.75 4.57 0.83 34.70% 7.60% 2.53
1997 Pedro Martinez Expos 11.37 2.5 4.55 0.6 32.20% 7.10% 2.39
1995 Randy Johnson Mariners 12.35 2.73 4.52 0.5 34.00% 7.50% 2.08
2011 Zack Greinke Brewers 10.54 2.36 4.47 1 28.10% 6.30% 2.98
2003 Pedro Martinez Red Sox 9.93 2.27 4.38 0.34 27.50% 6.30% 2.21
1997 Roger Clemens Blue Jays 9.95 2.32 4.29 0.31 28.00% 6.50% 2.25
2013 Max Scherzer Tigers 10.08 2.35 4.29 0.76 28.70% 6.70% 2.74
2009 Justin Verlander Tigers 10.09 2.36 4.27 0.75 27.40% 6.40% 2.8
1986 Mike Scott Astros 10 2.35 4.25 0.56 28.70% 6.80% 2.16
2007 Erik Bedard Orioles 10.93 2.82 3.88 0.94 30.20% 7.80% 3.19
2012 Max Scherzer Tigers 11.08 2.88 3.85 1.1 29.40% 7.60% 3.27
2009 Tim Lincecum Giants 10.42 2.72 3.84 0.4 28.80% 7.50% 2.34
1998 Randy Johnson - - - 12.12 3.17 3.83 0.85 32.50% 8.50% 2.9
1962 Sandy Koufax Dodgers 10.55 2.78 3.79 0.63 29.00% 7.70% 2.15
1984 Dwight Gooden Mets 11.39 3.01 3.78 0.29 31.40% 8.30% 1.69
2013 Anibal Sanchez Tigers 9.99 2.67 3.74 0.45 27.10% 7.20% 2.39
1990 David Cone Mets 9.91 2.73 3.63 0.9 27.10% 7.50% 2.83
2008 Tim Lincecum Giants 10.53 3.23 3.26 0.44 28.70% 8.80% 2.59
2004 Jason Schmidt Giants 10.04 3.08 3.26 0.72 27.70% 8.50% 2.92
2013 Jose Fernandez Marlins 9.75 3.02 3.22 0.52 27.50% 8.50% 2.73

The results were impressive to say the least and, if sorted by K/BB ratio, we see Fernandez ranks last. However, that shouldn't be taken as an insult, but rather a compliment. To even be in the same discussion as these players is an honor, but at only age twenty is an extreme acclaim. Most of the list is comprised of players in their peak, not the beginning, like Fernandez. If Fernandez improves even slightly, he is a perennial Cy Young candidate year in and out.

Although a slight improvement might be underselling Jose. As the 2013 season went on, he sharpened his skills each month. If we look at his monthly splits, there's a clear trend.

Month K/9 BB/9 K/BB HR/9 K% BB% BABIP LOB% FIP- xFIP- FIP xFIP
April 8.63 4.13 2.09 0.75 22.60% 10.80% 0.277 68.50% 98 100 3.71 3.77
May 9.21 3.18 2.9 1.27 24.20% 8.30% 0.263 74.80% 106 93 4 3.52
June 8.91 3.06 2.91 25.60% 8.80% 0.232 76.70% 55 87 2.09 3.27
July 10.29 2.57 4 0.51 30.50% 7.60% 0.234 82.20% 67 69 2.53 2.61
August 11.31 2.54 4.45 0.23 32.50% 7.30% 0.236 85.90% 47 62 1.79 2.33
September 9 3.21 2.8 0.64 26.90% 9.60% 0.156 100.00% 80 103 3.05 3.88

Now let's further split his season into pre and post All Star break, there's significant improvement between the two.

K/9 BB/9 K/BB HR/9 K% BB% BABIP LOB% FIP- xFIP- FIP xFIP
Pre-ASB 8.86 3.44 2.58 0.6 24.30% 9.40% 0.244 75.60% 85 94 3.21 3.54
Post-ASB 11.12 2.38 4.67 0.4 32.70% 7.00% 0.232 87.10% 52 63 1.99 2.38

So I wondered, if the second half Fernandez could be the one going forward, what could his future hold? Using the same process as before I filtered for seasons with pitchers K% equal to or greater than 32% and BB% less than or equal to 7%.

Season Name Team K/9 BB/9 K/BB HR/9 K% BB% FIP- FIP
1999 Pedro Martinez Red Sox 13.2 1.56 8.46 0.38 37.50% 4.40% 30 1.39
2000 Pedro Martinez Red Sox 11.78 1.33 8.88 0.71 34.80% 3.90% 46 2.17
2002 Randy Johnson Diamondbacks 11.56 2.46 4.7 0.9 32.30% 6.90% 60 2.66
1999 Randy Johnson Diamondbacks 12.06 2.32 5.2 0.99 33.70% 6.50% 58 2.76

The numbers speak for themselves. Flat out dominance. And again, this is when Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson were in their peaks. Pedro's season were at age 27 & 28 and Randy's at age 35 & 38. I can't emphasis it enough, Fernandez is only 21 years old. To say Jose might be the second coming of Martinez or Johnson could be a stretch, but the fact that's he's in the discussion at such a young age, is very special indeed.

Pitchers are fickle beings and far too often injuries derail prolific talent, I'm hoping Fernandez is not the case. Because there's a very real chance we might witnessing the start of a very promising career. Mike Trout took baseball by storm two years ago, but watch out folks, Jose Fernandez is not too far behind.

Jose Fernandez closed the book on his 2013 season with this pitch, it's only fitting I do the same with this article.

20140111_fernandez_2_medium

All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and GIF courtesy of Jen Mac Ramos @_jenmac.

Anthony Joshi-Pawlowic is a contributing writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @AJP13237.

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